As your toddler begins forming sounds into words and phrases over time, you may experience enormous moments of joy for the human they are quickly growing up to be! Don’t let this happy time screech to a halt if your child is having a little difficulty with clearly saying the /th/ sound.
This sound is a particularly tricky one, but a very commonly used speech sound. Maybe it’s small words like “the”, “there”, or “they”, but these short sounds still pack a punch and take a special, new skill for the vocal cords to develop and perform properly.
In speech language pathology, this form of your child’s development is studied as speech sound acquisition, which varies among all children. If you’re worried or concerned about how your child is pronouncing the /th/ sound, we have many suggestions for you.
Why is the /th/ sound so hard, should I be concerned?
If your child has experienced frequent ear infections, these have been a documented trigger of hindering language and sound development.
If your child has difficulty, you may find yourself concerned and wondering, “what is it called when you can’t pronounce /th/ sound?”. This comes down to clearly articulating new sounds into clear language.
“Articulation” refers to how you position your lips and tongue against your teeth to make clear sounds and pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth in order to clearly speak words. Difficulty in pronouncing the /th/ sound would be formally categorized as an “articulation disorder”.
If your child isn’t able to clearly say /th/ words, this may be just a temporary problem, or reason to be concerned about a more significant condition.
Don’t worry — this condition isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but ensuring your child has a plan in place to work through challenges in articulation will be practical, helpful, and provide peace of mind.
What age does the /th/ sound develop for kids?
The /th/ sound is among the most difficult speech sounds for children to master, ranking at the top alongside /j/, /ch/, /r/, and /zh/. Along these lines, another sound we commonly hear from clients whose child has difficulty with, you’ll find a variety of activities and information on how to help your child with the /r/ sound.
It is not uncommon for children to begin grasping the /th/ sound around age four, but still face challenges with overcoming or stumbling on certain words for several years.
If your child still has difficulty with clearly articulating words with the /th/ sound at seven or eight years old, we encourage you to try the exercises below at home.
We also recommended you schedule your introductory call today in order to evaluate your child’s needs and prevent any serious speech issues in the future.
Are there different /th/ sounds?
It’s important to recognize the different words that your child may have difficulty when articulating different /th/ sounds.
Some fall into the category of “voiceless” or “unvoiced” /th/ sounds, in words like thing, thank, or thumb.
This is a harder sound created by placing the tongue between or behind the teeth. When air passes through the mouth and teeth, the sound is made.
Other words with /th/ sound that requires a louder “voiced” /t/h sound include words such as this, that, there that is more pronounced. A softer sound, this one is made possible when the vocal cords work to project the sound.
The biggest difference between these sounds is whether or not the vocal cords are used in creating the sound.
How do I teach /th/ sound therapy speech for my child?
Practicing sounds with your child is a great way for them to learn the /th/ sound. It’s important to be encouraging, patient, and understanding.
Because there are two different /th/ sounds, you’ll want to demonstrate using a variety of words, including they, them, there, this, though, thank, and theater.
Give the exercises below a try, and with a little commitment, you may have some success!
Activities to Encourage the /th/ Sound
As a parent who just wants their child to learn to “speak normally”, you likely catch yourself wondering “how do I get my child to say the /th/ sound?”.
It’s important to make practicing speech sounds fun and engaging for your child. You can help your child at home to improve speech, pronunciation, refine articulation, and make strides to a more confident child. We recommend starting with the following activities to teach and encourage the /th/ sound:
- Maybe your child enjoys blowing bubbles. Have them stand in front of the mirror and practice blowing bubbles, but before bringing over the bubble bottle, ask them to stick their tongue out between their teeth and blow air. They’ll be in the mindset to start blowing bubbles, and after giving the activity a few tries at making the /th/ sound, you can reward them with a fun game!
- Try having your child say “zzzzz” first, and direct them to move their tongue gradually forward to the front of their teeth. This will help stimulate the voiced /th/ sound!
- If your child opts for /f/ or /v/ sounds instead of /th/, ask them to try and use their tongue and teeth to make the sound, without their teeth and lip touching.
- While you’re out and about, driving around or walking in the neighborhood, you can ask your child “What is that thing over there?”, and ask them to reply using this form language: “I think that thing is ________”. This reply full of /th/ sounds may be a challenge, but over time, as your child practices they’ll enjoy how it may help them.
Each of these activities is very effective when performed in front of a mirror. You can demonstrate these exercises for your child, and they’ll watch their progress over time.
Coaching your child to great speech can be a positive, rewarding experience with strong commitment and attention to detail, but you may not be confident that you’re performing these exercises correctly on your own.
How can speech therapy and activities for the /th/ sound help my child with their language skills?
Every child is different, learns at a different pace, and may have unique challenges with pronouncing and articulating certain words. As experts in speech language pathology, our specialists are trained to work with your child to make measurable improvements and surpass speech goals together.
An individual consultation will determine if articulating the /th/ sound can be improved with specialized attention, guidance, activities, and expertise.
Get started today and schedule your free introductory phone call. We look forward to sharing with you about how our services can benefit you and your child’s development.